Call estates' bluff

February 19, 1999

Surely it is about time somebody called the literary estates' bluff ("Poetic licence denied", THES, February 12)?

Provided that what is quoted is less than a "substantial part" of each individual poem, Ted Hughes's estate has no right to refuse permission to quote from Birthday Letters in a critical or scholarly article.

When approached for copyright permission on these occasions, literary estates almost invariably demand fees or, very occasionally, refuse outright - regardless of whether the permission is theirs to grant. The mistake is to seek clearance for material that is already covered under the "fair dealing" provisions.

Instead of pleading with Hughes's heirs on the grounds that their article is "notably friendly" to Hughes, is it too much to ask the editor and publishers of the journal Textual Practice to stand up for intellectual freedom in the face of what are almost certainly groundless legal threats?

If they did so, they would have all academic authors in their debt.

Patrick Parrinder. University of Reading

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